Still, the question of power remains. If nineteenth-century comparative religion was fashioned at the intersection of academic discourse and imperial force, has the study of religion subsequently undergone a process of intellectual decolonization? Has it become self-critical of its own interests? Has it renounced the imperial privileges such as observation, representation, generalization, colonization, and control that made it possible? Here I think some progress has been made, even if the academic study of religion, in this regard, lags behind postcolonial developments in other disciplines within the human and social sciences. Even in such post-imperial or postcolonial initiatives, however, the problematic of power seems to remain intractable. On the one hand, renunciation appears as an option, as Edward Said, for example, has argued that a post-imperial scholarship “means not trying to rule others, not trying to classify them or put them in hierarchies, above all, not constantly reiterating how ‘our’ culture or country is number one” (1993:408). On the other hand, utopian dreams are tempting, visions of a world, as David Spurr has noted, “in which the play of difference could range free of the structures of inequality” (1993:201). Somewhere between renunciation and utopia, the one potentially paralyzing, the other practically impossible, comparative religion - as opening, as conversation, as interplay of difference, as the contrapuntal comparison of comparisons - might have a place in a post-imperial, postcolonial world.
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